At the Montgomery Hill Observatory of Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, California, there is a public stargazing night on the first or the second Friday of every month. It is here that a decade ago I first saw Saturn through the observatory’s 7” refractor telescope. I will never forget that magical moment: The “Lord of the Rings” planet 750 million miles or so away from the earth that seemed so inviting that I wanted to reach out and touch it.
George Bernard Shaw offered the most damning argument against teachers and the profession of teaching. In Man and Superman (1903), the Irish playwright declared through his protagonist: “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
Comedian Woody Allen clarified the idea further for us: “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
A snider version is available on the Internet (author unknown): “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”
In a previous article, I suggested that making a connection between the vocabulary of Math and English can help students overcome their fear of math word problems while increasing their appreciation of English texts. Is that true? Does it really work? Here are some student responses to the hypothesis, as they experienced it themselves.
Some students generally dislike math word problems. The difficulty is particularly pronounced in introductory algebra, intermediate algebra, and introductory statistics courses. Students often cannot make sense of what the question is asking them to solve. It frequently comes down to a difficulty with the English language. The challenge is not restricted to ESL students but to native speakers as well. Students can solve algebraic problems if they are expressed in straightforward mathematical notations but if the same problem is expressed in words, they are lost.
In November of 1964, the legendary physicist Richard Feynman, then forty-six years old, delivered a Seven-Part series of Messenger Lectures at Cornell University on “The Character of Physical Law.” (http://www.cornell.edu/video/playlist/richard-feynman-messenger-lectures)
Feynman began his lecture with these words: “It is odd, but on the infrequent occasion when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics. I believe that is probably because we respect the arts more than the sciences.”